July 23, 2004
Feargal Quinn: "Respect, service, value and passion"
Retail legend Senator Feargal Quinn hasn't changed much over the years. He is still affable and remarkably forthright, and, like most Irish, he has the gift of the gab. Regrettably, his days in a management executive role are now over. But anyone who recalls the innovative way he used to run Dublin-based supermarket chain Superquinn will always be interested in hearing his views. His famous book "Crowning the Customer" has gone a long way to popularising them. This delightful read is surely one of the best books ever written on retailing. In its heyday during the 80s and 90s, Superquinn was a Mecca for retailers world-wide. Quinn even forced suppliers to negotiate with him on the shop floor and got shop staff speeding around on roller-skates. When he ran his own show, Feargal Quinn only ever gave interviews in his stores. "This is where I belong; this is where I should be – with my customers."
March 26, 2004
Jan Åström: "We've got a good mix"
Jan Åström, CEO of Stockholm-based SCA (Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget), has that typically Swedish attribute of robust optimism. SCA is among the ten largest papermakers in the world and has an impressively broad product portfolio. The Hygiene Products division accounts for roughly half of group revenues, Packaging for a third and Personal Care (ladies' hygiene, nappies/diapers, incontinence products) for the remaining 15 per cent. At SCA's historic headquarters in elegant Stockholm, Åström (48) sketched out his plan for growth via own label, the global "Tena" brand, and international expansion. While doing so, Jan Åström knows that he can leverage considerable economies of scale with gross 2003 revenues touching €9.4bn. He can also play on a value-added chain that reaches from forestry to packaging.
December 5, 2003
Larry Johnston: "No sacred cows"
Larry Johnston, Chairman, President & CEO of US retail giant Albertsons, Inc, is a lanky ex-marine with mild manners. Likeable and comradely, he turned up late for the interview in a Paris hotel, but was honest enough to say: "Sorry guys, I simply forgot." In fairness, the man was heavily jet-lagged, and it was 3 a.m. by his biological clock. Johnston was groomed at General Electric under the legendary Jack Welch. He was called in to troubleshoot at Albertsons at the end of 2000 after a merger with American Stores turned sour. The deal catapulted the new enlarged Albertsons to the number two spot in US grocery retailing behind Kroger. But a crushing legacy of debt and intractable integration problems were the price. Johnston freely admits that, when the head-hunters approached him for the job, he had never even heard of Albertsons.
September 5, 2003
Peter Brabeck: "I'm no slave to the retailers"
"So you've come to see our film star?" asked a helpful, but somewhat overripe lady assistant, brandishing a New York business magazine with Peter Brabeck-Letmathe on the front cover. At the head office of the world's largest food supplier in Vevey on delightful Lake Geneva, one is ushered in to the CEO of Nestlé with fitting reverence. Certainly, Brabeck has been instrumental in developing the Swiss power house away from its former sweets bias towards a nutritional health company. And it was refreshing not to hear a supplier fawn, cringe, and grovel at the mere mention of his major retail customers.
June 13, 2003
Alan Lafley: suaviter in modo, fortiter in re
With the acquisition of German haircare company Wella fresh under his belt, Alan G. Lafley, Chairman, President & CEO of Procter & Gamble, paid a lightening trip to Germany on his global rounds. Modest almost to the point of shyness, Lafley seemed remarkably relaxed for a man who has turned around the world's second-largest fmcg manufacturer. Following in the footsteps of a controversial predecessor nicknamed "Dark Vader", mild-mannered "A.G." has successfully refocused the US consumer goods giant on its core brands, countries and markets. To do so within less than three years is nothing short of a feat of arms. Following the controversial restructuring and cost-cutting programme "Organization 2005" P&G is now a meaner and leaner animal. As Alan Lafley spoke about marketing billion-dollar brands to a hundred-or-more countries, the quiet American projected the tone: "Nothing much really, all in a day's work." Don't they call this "laid-back" on his side of the Pond?
May 9, 2003
Howard Mann: "People still eat French fries in a recession"
Howard Mann is the English President & CEO of Florenceville/New Brunswick-based McCain Foods Limited. The Canadian frozen food and appetizer-cum-snacks manufacturer is the world's largest supplier of frozen potato products. Depending on which size of the Pond you live, you'll call these chips or French fries. Last year, the family-owned company, which has never lost money since 1958, posted revenues of around 6.1bn Canadian dollars (€3.9bn). Under Mann's leadership, McCain Foods has shown itself adept at anticipating and/or initiating food trends. With a dry London humour reminiscent of the actor Michael Caine, Howard Mann (56) discussed global expansion and how he intends to continue diversifying the brand portfolio. But, he didn't dodge such thorny issues as acrylamide and industry consolidation.
March 28, 2003
Patrick Ricard: "We never dilute our brands"
There are worse fates than going to lunch in Paris with the charming and beautiful niece of the largest shareholder in a global drinks company. Regrettably, this was purely for business purposes as the lady is head of press at Pernod Ricard and simply doing her job. Afterwards, and equally regrettably, uncle and CEO Patrick Ricard only offered coffee at the group's elegant headquarters in the City of Light's well-heeled 16th arrondissement. Ricard is nothing if not a man of business. The interview kept strictly to theme and subject: the consistent global positioning of brands – and no price dumping. Under his aegis Pernod Ricard has pursued an aggressive acquisitions strategy and risked high gearing levels on the way. But the group has always managed to reduce these over time...until the next buying opportunity comes along.
March 14, 2002
Cees van der Hoeven: "The heavy load of exceptionals isn't something to be proud of"
The ever-optimistic and enthusiastic Cees van der Hoeven is always "excited" about some new project. Certainly the Chief Executive Officer of Royal Ahold N.V. is nothing if not ambitious. His spending spree at the helm of the historic Dutch grocer since 1993 has catapulted the public limited company into the big league. Ahold now ranks as the world's number two retailer by sales after Wal-Mart. Over the last decade, van der Hoeven has given our newspaper an interview virtually every year at head office in Zaandam, near Amsterdam. Each time Ahold has become an even more global, diversified and complex group. Few big retail bosses talk about doubling annual revenues and net earnings every five years, and still fewer actually achieve this. However, a new note of caution has crept into van der Hoeven's fluent and cosmopolitan repartee recently, and Ahold's relentless pace of internationalisation has come to a sharp halt. We wanted to know why.
October 9, 2001
En compagnie: Spar CEO Fritz Ammann gets a visit from France
In May 1997, I.T.M. Entreprises S.A. (Intermarché) took a majority stake in the moribund German retailer Spar HandelsAG. Since then, the German acquisition has not stopped haemorrhaging money. The leading French retailer co-operative is now bogged down in a morass of heavy restructuring and modernisation costs. On a visit to Spar head office in Schenefeld, near Hamburg, Intermarché president Pierre Gourgeon and Spar CEO Dr. Fritz Ammann insisted that the company had not acquired a pig-in-the-poke. Certainly, finance investors Klaus-Peter Schneidewind & Co. made an advantageous deal! While Gourgeon and Ammann talked about their German horror trip with a studied lack of buyer's remorse, it would be difficult to imagine a more desperate-looking set of men.
October 9, 2001
On a visit to Germany: Geoffrey Mulcahy
Regarded by some as a living legend, quiet-spoken Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy, Group Chief Executive of Kingfisher plc, is surprisingly unpretentious. In fact, his easy-going way makes it hard to understand why he has polarised City opinion during his long career in retailing. This is a man, who was praised to the hilt for turning around what was once FW Woolworth. He then fell like an angel from City grace, only to be returned to relative favour recently. Mulcahy has now split Kingfisher into two separate companies so that the new group can focus on international expansion. Was that his reason for a recent trip to Germany? A talk was arranged to find out in the breakfast room of Munich's famous "Bayrischer Hof". Mulcahy admitted to looking at the "Praktiker" DIY store portfolio. However, he was underwhelmed by the quality of the Metro Group subsidiary's sites, calling a third of them "quite frankly rubbish". This is obviously a man who calls a spade a spade.